October 22, 2007

More Domino

While not in chronological order, this is part of the continuing chronicles of our fearless protagonista.


The X, the Y, and the Zee

When ones livelihood relies on subtlety, nuance, deception, and disguise, frequent and long-lasting relations with others is not a daily reality. Living a life in the shadows requires self-reliance as a discipline. Thus, my way has not been one of placid streams set in a Zen-like landscape, but a composed, yet lethal presence in the jungle of man.

Free from the confines of a desk, my office has always been where my talents have led me. The only routine I have ever known has been the rising of the sun in the east and the setting of the sun in the west. To continue to live was to breathe in, assess the surroundings, breathe out, then and only then, to act.

Five years ago I had finished a job in the north of Africa which required I re-enter the states from Canada. I ended up in the mad crush of Gotham in the days leading up to Christmas. My desire was a quiet trip to the Seychelles, but immediate commercial travel was out of the question. Instead, I chose to seek solitude and anonymity in one of the largest, busiest, and most populated cities in the world.

Instead of the Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan clad who marched to the tune of their own self-importance, my business suit was actually an air of confidence that cloaked me whether I choose to don clothing or not. For a calling card, I adopted an attitude of invincible indifference, tinged with the allure of danger and a mere hint of vulnerability. That wisp of vulnerability had been the downfall of many a man. Conversely, the man unmoved to protect a susceptible woman represented the most treacherous of all my foes.

While in a strange city, hotels were a natural choice, but there were few modern ones which did not require identification, even if paying with cash, and most all were wired for surveillance. Notwithstanding the multitude of faces coming and going, electronic eyes had long memories.

Rejecting conventional accommodations, I usually found satisfaction in making use of apartments and homes belonging to absent owners. In a twisted manner, one could conclude I provided excellent, but discreet home protection services in exchange for a few nights lodging.

There were infinite means of discovering such circumstances. On this particular occasion, I had the fortune of encountering a family of five waiting to pile into a cab with enough bags for a months voyage. I overheard the lady of the group express her displeasure with her husband for not hailing a mini-van, but the man grumbled this trip to the old country was going to cost him enough as it was. A surreptitious glance at a luggage tag gave me all the information I needed. While they were still loading the taxi, I had already made my way into their four bedroom flat on the upper eastside of Manhattan.

On my second day in the city, I set out for a brisk walk to enjoy the freedom of my solitude and continue my study of the human animal. I routinely chose a subject which interested me and often spend hours, if not days, gleaning everything I could about the individual, his habits, likes, and dislikes. These observations and insights honed my skills of persuasion. They helped me to create yet another masked persona to add to my burgeoning arsenal of identities. These subjects were most often men. Experience has shown me if I knew enough about a mans motivation, I could become that which interested him the most. Then, whoever I presented was someone in whom he wanted to believe. While sexual undertones were usually present, most were far more interested and impassioned by the titillation of pursuit, than the momentary victory of capture. While some weak men responded best to fawning adoration, those with whom I most often dealt much preferred the seduction and subjugation of a sophisticated and steely woman in whom he was daunted to trust.

Ask of a thing, what is its nature. Ask of a man, not his most fervent desire, but of what terrifies him the most. In the darkest of night when he closed his eyes and released his will to the subconscious, his fears are what visit him with frequency, not the grandiose dreams of success in the board room, race track or battlefield. Present to him the human personification of that fear in a female form he thinks he can conquer and one will have succeeded in gaining his undivided attention.

The man driven by his demons is the easiest of all to lead or corrupt through his desperation. The man content with himself and his world is least likely to succumb to temptation. Threaten the latter with that which he holds most dear and he will bend.

Whether fatigue or boredom guided me on that day, there were few subjects which drew my attention. Africa had been difficult. Men of Middle Eastern origin without hint of Western influence were taxing, at best. There was no dealing with them in terms of equality. When not in a position of absolute, unyielding omnipotence, I was forced to work through a male intermediary. Yabu was indispensable in such situations; however, we rarely kept our respective eyes on the same ball and in his rakish way, the charming scoundrel always managed to further complicate things with his easy distractibility. Whether women, blades or art, he always spotted something he had to acquire.

Allowing myself an unguarded moment, I had to smile at the thought of Yabu. He was definitely a boy dog. Damn him.

In the absence of Yabu, I despised working with others. While necessary to complete a task, the others were most often the weak point in my chain of machinations.

Africa had been messy and unduly complicated. While ultimately complete, the transaction had taken much longer than anticipated and cost my benefactors more than they had originally anticipated. Five days had lengthened to six weeks of flies, dry sweat, ceaseless sanded winds, and relentless negotiations and cruel persuasion. A high price had been paid in men, guns, and gold, not to mention my stamina and endurance, but, fortunately, uncertainty of success at all kept me in favor.

Returning to the States was always a shock. Rarely self-indulgent, there were brief moments when I allowed introspection. In those stolen seconds I wondered why I continued to return. My business was almost exclusively foreign and primarily away from most modern and pleasant societies. I knew I could have afforded, not only to retire, but fortress myself in seclusion in any one of a thousand places around the globe. Decidedly non-partisan, but not completely without a sense of patriotism, I had ceased to identify myself nationally or ethnically years ago. Linguistically, I was completely fluent in nine languages and four dialects. I was a gypsy with no tent to even call my own.

Why, the question nagged, why did I always feel compelled to return to the United States?

Moreover, why did I not just emerge from the bowels of the underworld and choose to walk in the sun for the remainder of my natural days?

Lost in thought, I had forgotten my surrounds until someone bumped me from the side. I had stopped walking and became nothing more than a sidewalk obstacle. Gathering my bearings I decided to slip into one of the numerous coffee houses littering nearly every block. A nice cup of chocolate sought to comfort me as I continued to brave the cold, although instead of blocking foot traffic, I kept close to the edge of a brick building.

I knew I had to end these psychic wanderings. They only served to disrupt my focus. I was just weary, I consoled myself; however, deep within me I knew in retirement my loneliness would only consume me. At least when working, survival mandated I shift my attention outward. Despite my best efforts, I knew the hunger of emotional dissatisfaction would continue to fester within me.

Tossing the cup into a bin, I set out once more and found myself across from a large wooded park. Crossing the street I happened upon a dog walker with five canines which varied in size from Maltese to Great Dane. While not averse to animals, they were a luxury I could not afford. Instead, I took in their handler. He was a handsome young man, if just a few years my junior. He was tall with dark hair and a lean, athletic build.

Not normally moved by physical beauty alone, I found myself instantly attracted to his seemingly relaxed nature and natural way with the animals. Intrigued, I discretely followed him through the park and back into the city streets. After three-quarters of an hour, I had observed that despite the awkwardness of his wayward and often rambunctious charges he was most respectful of those around him, particularly the very young and old. To the boisterous cabbies and those otherwise inattentive, I could discern a ripple of steely irritation well beneath his easy going demeanor. He moved with the ease and grace of the privileged, but was well in touch with the humility of the common.

Driven by some inner madness, I wanted to engage another human. I felt the desire, not for physical contact or sexual intimacy, but to interact on a personal level without design or agenda.

Had I bothered to reflect at that point, I would have thought myself suicidal because I had no thought of self-preservation or tomorrow. I merely wanted to make contact with this someone who had touched some part of me I had long relegated to the darkness. There was an intangible that I related to in the manner he responded, not only to his surroundings, but to the animals in his care, rather than those around him. Spurred by an unspoken understanding of a loneliness which so closely echoed my own, I was ill prepared to let him slip away; however, before I could formulate an agenda, I was spooked from my shadowy perch behind a buildings column by the incessant yapping of a smallish white dog who had parked herself directly in front of me.

Torn among conflicting emotions to flee, kick the little beast or pick her up, I was rendered momentarily motionless. The second I turned to stride away I looked up from the dog to see the tall dark haired man standing immediately before me. Glancing up I noticed greenish/grey eyes which were framed by the most beautiful lashes on anyone I had ever seen. Rather than speak or smile, he just gazed intently at me, making me feel much like a child.

Annoyed, I quickly turned away.

Hours after returning to my borrowed apartment I still found myself agitated and pacing. I berated myself for breaking and even seeking contact with another for reasons other than business. Mine was a life of solitude, I reminded myself. No one could be trusted. To die was one thing, but to risk betrayal was ultimately worse than death.

After a sleepless night, I ventured out very early the next morning hoping the winters day would clear my head and calm my nerves. Exiting the apartment building I was surprised to find the news stand at the corner to be closed and traffic was virtually non-existent; however, at the end of the following block there was a small diner open next to stairs which lead to a subway. Popping in I noticed there were only two patrons at the counter and one rather corpulent lady behind it. Moments after doffing my coat and seating myself in a booth with my back to them all, the waitress approached: Merry Christmas. Coffee?

Nodding absently, I realized I was so far removed from this reality, I had forgotten the day.

A weary defeat began to consume me and I began to doubt the very need of my continued existence.

Lost in my bleak thoughts, I numbly sipped the thick, black brew. When my brain acknowledged the presence of someone to my right who was not the waitress, I did not care to even look. It was apparently my time. I had let my guard down. I had been careless and finally given one of my many enemies the opportunity to eliminate me.

I had often wondered whether I would fear death. When one was in control it was all too easy to cavalierly deny any such trepidation, but when vulnerable and without defense, I had wondered how I would really feel.

I discovered there was no angst in my heart at that moment. My sole thought was that the one person about whom I truly cared would never really know me.

As if reading my thoughts, a voice inquired: Contemplating lifeor death?

Without otherwise acknowledging his presence, I closed my eyes and wearily shook my head as a deep despair took hold. A part of me was disappointed a bullet had not torn through my temple or a blade had not severed my throat.

I heard him move as he settled into the booth opposite me, as well as felt the table rattle with the weight of his hands upon it. He must have motioned to the waitress because I could hear the nylon of her stockings rub between her ample legs before I smelled a fresh cup of coffee being poured for us both.

Allowing myself an audible sigh, I opened my eyes once more and had to blink repeatedly before sanguine greenish-grey eyes framed by those gorgeous eye lashes registered fully in my once nimble brain. Admittedly, he was the only person in that city of eight and a quarter million people in whom I had taken an interest; however, he was the last person on earth I expected to find opposite me at that very moment.

Shifting my brain from neutral directly into fifth, I dropped the filter and immediately inquired: Who are you? Why are you here? How did you find me?

Flashing an artful smile, he responded: Whoa. Demanding arent you? That didnt take long, Madame X.

Finally engaging my training, I dropped the mask of equanimity firmly onto my face and once again cloaked myself with confidence. Smiling slyly back, I purred: Well, my friend, I hardly recognized you without your furry companions. Have you lost another dog?

You must have a twin or be an alien, he began, because I could swear I just watched you turn into someone else right before me.

It has been my experience, as I took a coy sip of coffee, men typically see and hear exactly what they wish.

Nah. Its not working. You still have your clothes on and you have yet to tell me any one of a thousand different sweet nothings.

At that moment something astonishing happened. For the first time in absolute years I found myself actually laughing out loud.

Satisfied with himself, he leaned forward and most earnestly relayed: You should do that more often. Your whole face lights up and the sound of your laughter genuinely brings joy to my heart. If I didnt know better, I would swear it was Christmas or something.

Strangely comfortable and sobering a bit, I asked once more: How did you find me?

Dogs are interesting creatures. They are pure of heart and oblivious to subterfuge. Draining his coffee, he briefly made eye contact with the waitress for another. Only after it was filled, did he continue. They noticed you were following me long before I could discern what was amiss, then who was causing it. Zoey was the Maltese who eventually confronted you. Shes basically the boss. She managed to slip her leash and make a bee line for you before I knew what was really up. Once you took off, I gave you a few minutes, then let her track you down. I saw you leave your building this morning and simply followed you here. No biggie.

Dumbfounded with the ease with which he tracked me in New York City, I quickly replayed my path back to the apartment and while I had taken a circumlocutious route, I had remained on foot and failed to utilize either the subway or a cab. His explanation was clearly possible, as well as most probable.

So, he continued, the question actually remains, why were you following me?

Without hesitation, I answered him simply: At the risk of sounding clich, the truth is often stranger than fiction. I have been in town for a few short days. I know no one here. You walked by and something about you interested me. As something of a loner, I am not well versed in approaching a complete stranger for merely personal reasons.

It was finally his turn to blink, then blink again.

Well, that is not exactly the answer I expected, but then again, Im not sure what I expected.

Proffering his right hand across the table, he adopted a pseudo serious expression and began to introduce himself: How do you do, mlady. My name is

Wait, I interrupted him with a soft fingertip to his lips.

Formal names are over-rated. I take it Zoey is your dog?

He nodded quizzically.

Do you mind, I quietly asked, if I call you Zee?

Lady, he smiled, you can call me whatever you like.

Thank you, I whispered with delight. Just call me Domino.

Sitting back in the booth Zee squinted his amazing eyes slightly as he reassessed what he saw before him. I was amused at his scrutiny, but silently wondered why I had so easily allowed it. Unbeknownst to him, at that moment I would have truthfully answered any question he asked.

Domino, he methodically formed the word with his lips. I cannot imagine you would be called anything else.

Reaching into his pocket he placed a twenty on the table.

Offering me his hand as he stood, Would you care for some company this Christmas day?

From there we walked, comfortable in our silence. He led me to pick up each of the dogs and we walked some more. Once they were returned to their rightful people, he told me he should check on Zoey. There was some obvious hesitation on his part and I began to realize he might have someone at home he did not want me to meet. Surprised yet again by the conflicting emotions that aroused, I immediately began to withdraw and re-erect my walls. When I emerged with yet another mask, his eyes had the look of a very old soul, yet he said nothing.

For the first time since we exited the diner, there was uneasiness between us.

A fierce rumbling in one stomach, then the other finally broke the silence. Boyish again, he smiled and acknowledged we needed to find something to eat. When he asked if I liked Italian, I nodded appreciatively.

A quick subway ride found us within a block of my borrowed apartment; however, our destination was across the street in another quite affluent building, complete with two doormen. Taking the elevator to one of the top floors, we stepped out in front a pair of massive oak doors. Producing a key from his pocket, he deftly opened the one on the right, then stepped back to allow me to enter first.

Impressive was an understatement. The apartment was well and richly furnished and the view was breathtaking, although I was barely two steps in before I was accosted by six pounds of white fury. While the other dogs had taken quite a shine to me, Zoey was not pleased with my presence despite having tracked me down from one part of the city to the other.

Shes a little nuts, Zee explained, Shes supposed to me my mothers dog.

This is your parents place? I kicked myself for asking.

My parents are divorced. This used to be my dads apartment, but hes gone now. I stay here when Im in town. Reaching down he picked up the indignant pooch before adding: And, this one was unfortunately imprinted with dear old moms personality before she decided a dog was too much responsibility for her.

While he had freely provided the information, his demeanor squarely conveyed none of the topics were actually open for further discussion. Instead, I offered: I am pretty handy in the kitchen

Gently placing the dog back on the floor, he motioned me to follow him. I promised Italian, he announced as he led the way to the kitchen, and Italian you shall have.

With that he opened a pantry door, extracted two cans, and deposited them on a counter before me.

Again, I found myself laughing as I recognized the red, white, and green Chef Boyardee labels.

Returning them to the pantry, I suggested we return to the diner down the street for some killer meatloaf. He agreed and the afternoon turned to early evening before he walked me back to my borrowed abode. Unwilling to make him an unwitting accomplice to breaking and entering, I thanked him for his company and quickly wished him good night. As I turned away, he softly asked if the evil twin alien would reappear in the morning and whisk this Domino away.

Looking back into his solemn eyes, I again chose honesty: I know not what tomorrow brings. Yet again I found myself running from him as I fled into the building, up the stairs, and back into the momentary sanctuary of someone elses apartment.

Running from him was easy. Running from the conflicting demons of my head and my heart were not so easy.

The next day, as well as the two after that found me falling into easy steps with Zee as we covered the city with the dogs. I appreciated his skills as many and varied. He was extremely intelligent, as well as observant. He was adept with computers and computer languages and, in his own right, he was quite the master of disguise, although his purposes and mine were radically different. The images he projected to the world of a fun-loving and easy going guy were actually a shield from prying eyes.

At first I failed to understand exactly why he chose the daily walks of other peoples dogs, but I learned the cloaks he wore were long-term, not just for the days or weeks for which I donned them. I came to understand the price he paid for privacy and the need he had for unmasked companionship.

He was a man of dichotomy and inner strength who was tortured by demons uniquely his own. In Zee I encountered the first human with whom I could be completely honest. Without revealing the specifics which would have placed him at risk, I told him exactly who and what I was. While a part of him wanted to join my world, I assured him there were only so many nightmares a conscience could abide. I implored him to spare my conscience, as well as his own.

By New Years the reality of my world had returned and my attention was required elsewhere. Before saying a final farewell, Zee gave me an internet address he assured me was secure to reach him, should I ever have need of him. Committing it to memory, I handed it back to him.

Knowing me or knowing of me was enough to put him in danger. Knowing how to reach me would cost him his life. Instead, I told him how to reach Yabu and warned him he was taking his life in his hands. While it was easy to be honest with Zee, it was Yabu who had earned my trust.

Posted by Christina at October 22, 2007 08:06 PM

Comments

Brilliant writing! As always, of course. :) I cannot wait to read more!

Posted by: Theresa at October 23, 2007 04:54 AM

That is art.

You certainly have a way with words. I could hear those stockings rubbing!

Posted by: Phoenix at October 23, 2007 08:56 AM

As you Mexicans would say - yo quiero ms.

Posted by: zonker at October 24, 2007 06:47 PM

Coulda swore she was Texican.

YEEE HAAAAA !!!

Posted by: The Senior Chief at October 25, 2007 05:43 PM

Domino is a lot of things, but she is *not* Mexican.

Here are her roots.

; )

Posted by: Christina at October 25, 2007 06:11 PM

Absolutely enjoyable! So glad Yabu pointed me to you.

:)

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at October 25, 2007 07:31 PM

You're NOT Mexican?! Bwahahahaa!

Posted by: zonker at October 26, 2007 07:12 AM

Hey Zonker...you better back off. I'll kill your ass dead, if she doesn't do it first.

Domino is no Wetback, but she is a Slang Eye.

Watch your back brother.

Posted by: Yabu at October 26, 2007 09:31 AM

Man, always good, and you know that I mean that...there is a saying from one of my favorite artists..."If it's real, you'll feel it.." hehe!

And, the rest of you folks, it's "Texican"..not "Mexican" and Texican is taken from "Texian" of old and is a compliment.

Posted by: kelly at October 30, 2007 03:39 PM

Just perfect. A lovely way to divest oneself of the...restlessness.

Posted by: LauraB at November 1, 2007 08:57 AM

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